Sunday, December 5, 2010
twenty-fifth visit: Dec 4th 2010 Judaism, Conservative
Congregation Beth Shalom
5915 Beacon St, Pittsburgh PA 15217
Mine is a soul that loves the minor key. Growing up in church I had to wait for Greensleeves (What Child is This) or O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Once a year or so if I was lucky, I got my wish. Regarding Judaism, in services with song, it's a given every time. And I absorb every note.
I made my "warning" phone call to the administration of the synagogue earlier in the week. "Our doors are open to you. But let me ask: Are you Jewish? OK, there is no writing or photographing in the temple on the Sabbath. Come back any other day if you need to do that. And this is going to be really boring for you. It runs until noon. Come at 10am instead of 9. At 9am hardly any one will be here anyway. You will be very bored." I love this project. I even love making the phone calls for this project.
I arrived at a little after 10. The service ends just over 2 hours later. Pardon my arguing, but I wasn't bored. Am I the only one who enjoys listening to the sounds of a language not understood? To me, English is the most boring of them all.
I've always liked a good assignment, nerdy through and through. As a teacher I never give one that I wouldn't want to do myself. As a former student, no longer receiving them, I simply make them up for myself. (Well, that's what all artists do.) Like this one called gatherings. Along this vein, I've really taken to the portion of Shabbat service in which worshipers are assigned a set number of pages in the prayer book and a small block of quiet time in which to offer these words in mediation. I love the idea of individuals united in the quiet task even if I am the only one reading the English-translation side of the pages.
This is one of the friendliest congregations. I approached this visit assuming that it may be a situation where I enter, experience, then exit without much interaction with others... perhaps because of my complete lack of Hebrew skills, I tend to enter my own world and stay there a bit.
However, not the situation in this case. My first clue came when Rabbi Werbow specifically welcomed me, in addition to stating the customary "Shabbat Shalom" as he circulated the congregation, shaking each attendee's hand. When the service ended, Joel, who had been sitting immediately behind me, introduced himself and asked from where I was visiting.
Thinking about it now, I realize that EVERYONE I spoke with that day asked me this. "Highland Park" I would answer. A pause, and "Ohhh". Later Joel commented that my dress looked somewhat Middle Eastern. Janice asked if I meant the Chicago neighborhood of "Highland Park". Nope. The Pgh one, just up the street. Am I looking a little "not-from-this-town-ish" in my dress?
Joel encourages me to stay a minute and attend the reception on the floor below. He is excited to learn that I am an U of Michigan alumni, and claims there are a few others in the congregation. He introduced me to Rabbi Werbow and asked whom else would I like to meet. I met Janice, who then said to Diane "Let me introduce me to my friend". ("Friend," meaning me. Wow.)
Each of these kind folks asked many appreciated questions about gatherings. And Janice had a story for me about Community Day School—a school serving the Jewish community—a school that is held in a former Catholic church here in Squirrel Hill. She claims that you can still tell where the confessionals were located... in a space where the children now eat lunch... where former stained glass windows replaced with clear. Re-purposing spaces, the history that buildings hold within them, the grace of willing adaptation. We both find this fascinating. And it made me think a minute about the story of Hanukkah, too.